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The Chapel by the Sea : Chapter 5 : The Madness by the Sea
The sense of foreboding that had stolen over him was almost palpable. He gazed down at the dark ethereal structure that had plagued his dreams since his foray into that desert wasteland that he was just now beginning to suspect had taken a far worse toll on his health than he had at first imagined and so much worse than he could have ever possibly foreseen. There it stood. A dark unholy testament to the unreality that had wrapped its monstrous and awesome claw about him and now held him in an unbreakable grip and rendered him immobile. He stood unable to move or to even form the most elemental of thoughts in the face of the waking horror that stood before his tortured eyes. He was experiencing a terror that he would never have believed possible in all his days. This was the madness of books and movies, not the reality of the known and explainable world that he was so accustomed to.
In the light of the new day, he could see the road that led down in the direction that he must walk in order to make the train station but he was certain that he would be unable to make his legs cooperate and carry him back down the hill and anywhere close to the vicinity of that unholy blight to town and sanity alike. And yet still, underneath it all, that sense of curiosity that he had felt in the dream coursed through him on some primitive level and it was this unnerving undercurrent that suddenly made his senses come alive with a feeling of potential discovery of such an unexplainable and seemingly impossible series of events. He attempted to regain control of himself but vomited at the prospect of having to go anywhere near that execrable abode. Could it be possible that he was still asleep in the inn and that this was just a continuation of the dream he had thought he had awoken from? But even as he was still giving form to this thought he knew that it was nothing more than wishful thinking on his part. He had somehow stepped through a portal and into a dimension of unreality and fear was the order of the day in this new and strange universe.
He kneeled down in attempts to get ahold of himself and to contemplate his options. There was only one option of course and he knew this even as he wished and prayed there were another. He would have to walk towards that eyesore in order to get back to the train station several yards away from where the church stood menacingly watching him and awaiting his decision. But could he force himself to take that first step?
He stood up on legs that felt weak and turned back in the direction of the inn to return inside. Dropping his bags on the floor and retaining only his briefcase, he walked back towards the counter and rang the bell to summon the keeper. He looked again at the hideous painting hung behind the counter and in his current state of delusional paranoia he was sure that the facial features of the grotesque man creature depicted in the artwork had further contorted into an even more menacing grimace than he had last remembered, as if either fact were even possible. His mind was slipping fast, of that he was becoming more and more sure by the hour. He forced himself to tear his gaze away from the maddening miscreation detailed on the canvas and watched as the old man suddenly appeared and sauntered forward.
“I reckon ye changed yer mind bout that thar room then.” He stated this more as a matter of fact than a question which slightly unnerved his guest more than he let on.
“No, actually I came back to inquire about the church.” He said. He reached into his pocket and came out with a cigarette which he lit and hoped that it would help in steadying his nerves.
“I thought ye was of a one such as them comes to meddle round about the church. That thar church goes back a spell. Farther than any local records or legends fer that matter. What concerns ye with such a place as that thar church? Ye know townsfolk round about these parts once worshipped there in droves. Order of Dagon or the Cult of the Black Worm or some such strangeness as that was what they all turned out to pray to. Cult doins and what not ye know.” He stopped there and produced his pipe taking a long draw on the same fetid substance he had been smoking earlier and that oddly familiar faint undercurrent of aroma that he had noticed then again wafted up to him in a most unagreeable manner and he suddenly found himself feeling nauseous again and his nerves had had it. He found that he was disgusted with this old man and his smelly pipe. He was about to take his leave when the old man continued.
“Townsfolk from all around these parts didn’t much like the doins and goin ons round here and the rumors run like wildfire bout black arts and ancient gods all abloodthirsty and whatnot just a itchin to break free of the bonds that binds em penned up as they been and all. Then there was the vanishings. Chillin and youngins mostly. So the surroundin villages gets together and one night the townsfolk come from all around to put an end to the goings on and they set that thar church afire with torches and makeshift fire devices with the whole congregation in there just achantin and carrying on like the dickens. Jus a prayin to those strange aquatic monsters as they worshipped back then in that thar old church.” The old man stopped here and took another long draw off his pipe allowing his guest time to digest this new little bit of local history.
“What happened to them all?” He asked after several moments of shared silence between them.
“Well I reckon that thar is dependin on what ye choose to believe. There’s some as say somethin come up from out that water and devoured em all up one and all if ye please and others as think they all jes took to the sea and become like those thar things as they worshipped in the deep. Or could be they simply jes burned up in the fire. But they say if’n they was to burn up there would a been bodies and what not but its told there twasn’t no remains to speak of and no bodies to be found and as you can plainly see mister that thar church wadn’t exactly burnt to the ground by any means or mustard. In fact it quite withstood that barrage of hellfire as the townsfolk saw put to hurl into it and it still stands there all but in sound health minus them thar scorch marks and some holes here and thar. So that thar gets some others to wonderin ifn maybe them folks had some kinda secret passages and what not. Maybe they had some sorta way out and they all just come out somewhere round abouts and simply all went away or went into hidin.” The old man looked at his guest and lit his pipe back up.
“And now?” He asked. It was all he could think to say but he had to say something to keep the old man talking so that he didn’t have to. He didn’t trust his voice right now.
“Now!” The old man broke out in laughter at this and as was custom his laughter quickly turned into a violent spasm of coughing. Once the old man was able to regain his composure he continued, “Whatever ye believe it ain’t nothin no more septa skeleton that sits down thar on the water and haunts this village and keeps the townsfolk afeared of it. Superstitious fears and the evil eye and what not. Now? Well now it justs sits thar on the water and waits. And then there’s them folks like you who come to meddle round down thar. Been a few a you over the years now and again. So ye gonna be wantin that thar room then I guess.”
He stood there visibly shaken. This was just all too much to take in. That the church he had dreamed of so many times lately was now sitting just outside these walls and all too close was madness. And what of the disturbing history the old man had just described to him? Could there be any truth to that insanity or was the old bastard just having a go at a tourist for kicks. What had become of his fellow travellers and what fate did they now face and was it similar in any way to his own? Then there was the dilemma of the oddities in time since waking up on the train. He suddenly felt overwhelmed and panic threatened to seize him at any moment as he realized his heartbeat had quickened and his breathing was heavier than he would have liked and came to quick it seemed.
“Ye don’t look so good thar young fella. Look liken ye seen a ghost.” Something in this statement struck the old man as funny and it set him to laughing again. As the laughter turned into a bout of choking the old man turned to leave and disappeared into whatever hole harbored him when he wasn’t dealing with his guests.
He stood there after the old man had vanished for several minutes remaining still and trying to get himself under control. It was all in vain.
Everything was wrong. Something…
He thought it best not to dwell on such things any longer. He would go to the train station and get the hell out of here. He would be alright once he reached the safety of the train and was able to put some distance between himself and this village. He would make his way down there now and leave. He would…
He would have to walk towards it! God help him, he was going to have to walk in the very direction that the accursed and abysmal church stood, mocking him and God alike. An even more disturbing and far more sinister thought occurred to him then; he had walked right in front of it in the dark last night without having known it was there. He began to tremble again as he thought of himself alone in the dark beside that thing but alas it would do no good to think of such things right now. It was after all broad daylight and he must not forget he was learned man of science. A rational man. What had he to fear from some deserted old church, history or otherwise. Dream or no dream. Could he not have seen something at some point in his learning’s or perhaps his studyings that could make sense of all this chaos? Was it not wholly possible that he had subconsciously seen something in a train station or even on the train itself in a travel magazine or some destination brochure in which this very village or its historical church had been featured?
But even as he tried to convince himself these things in the hopes of offering the slightest amount of comfort to his mind, he immediately recognized the plethora of flaws in this new and desperate theory to explain things. No, he would have to just muscle up his remaining strength and go. He took one final glance in the direction of the freakish atrocity that hung on the wall behind the counter. Pickman indeed! This entire place was distressing on so many levels. Iachen was, in his opinion, a very unhealthy and diseased place.
He took a deep breath and picking up his bags, he pushed through the door and out into awaiting morning. The bright light that assailed him when he got outdoors stood in stark contrast to the darkness of the atmosphere that clung to this village in the shadow of that dismal chapel. He took another deep breath of the fresh morning air and again there was that faraway detection of a most unpleasant smell but so faint as to be almost wholly unrecognizable.
He started to make his way down the hill, intentionally keeping his eyes to the ground. He couldn’t bear to look at that thing again. Besides that, he had too much to think about. He had so many questions that remained unanswered and the more he thought about them his head threatened to spin and his knees threatened to give out from under him. What was happening here? What was happening to him? Had he lost his mind in the desert? Was it possible he was wandering around at this very moment somewhere out among the dunes and dehydrating as he imagined himself in some beautiful far off village where there sat a church he had up til now only thought existed in his dreams? Could he be locked away in some madhouse somewhere behind a door and babbling to himself and anyone will listen to him as he slathers on incoherently about haunted churches, demonic paintings and slimy aquatic monsters that splash about in the water?
He arrived at the fork in the road and made a left without ever having to look up and behold that haunter of dreams. He continued on in the direction from which he had come the night before, what the innkeeper would have him believe was only an hour or two earlier. Madness he thought again for what seemed like the thousandth time.
He drifted down the road on autopilot now making every conscious effort to avoid any semblance of thought and was rather successful for the most part as he watched the train station come into view just ahead on his right. He could clearly see what else lay to his side through his peripheral vision but he had resisted the urge to look in its direction. He allowed thought to slowly return and with it came the slightest glimmer of something else. Hope. He would soon be on a train making his way away from this nightmare and none too soon as far as he was concerned.
Seeing the train station in the light of day for the first time he was immediately struck by just how pitiful a sight it actually was. It was really nothing more than a series of poles, on either side of a few concrete walkways, that held an aluminum looking cover up and ultimately led to a small building of sorts on the far end that he suspected was the ticket office.
He followed the tree lined walkway in the shape of an L from the road and came to the small building. He followed it around to the front and found an old fashioned ticket window, the kind not very often seen anymore in this day and age. The sign in the single small window read CLOSED.
Of course it did. He should have anticipated this. He found a small decal on the window that displayed the hours of operation and noted that the ticket window opened at 9:00 a.m. He figured it couldn’t be too long a wait until then and he sat down on the bench that had been placed to run along the length of the ticket building. He lit up a cigarette and settled back to wait clutching his briefcase close to him as he did so. Nine a.m. could never come soon enough for him.